On-site restaurants and cafes at hotels can be hit and miss sometimes. Just because you’ve got a captive market of unsure, unfamiliar travellers who will often eat in-house due to ease and uncertainty, doesn’t mean your offering should be dull and cut corners.
The Nelson Resort at Nelson Bay certainly doesn’t fit that category. Its in-house eatery – The Little Nel – is one of those places that diners will visit, regardless of it being attached to accommodation, or whether it was a standalone.
Perched on the rise overlooking d’Albora Marina and with water glimpses of the Bay, The Little Nel offers casual dining with fresh, interesting choices for groups of one to 20. It’s open for eat-in breakfast and lunch, or grab a coffee and pastry to go – my choice would be the bombolini – a warm Nutella-filled doughnut.
Breakfast can be as hearty or as healthy as you wish. Shedding some winter layers and keen to start the day on a lighter note? Try the overnight oats and chia pudding with fresh and baked apples and seasonal rhubarb; or try the quinoa, activated buckwheat and millet porridge with poached quince and almond butter.
There are plenty of classics to appeal, but each offers a slight improvement and individuality: eggs your way with bacon and chutney on linseed sourdough; smashed avocado with basil, pickles, feta and kale chips on toast; eggs Benedict with leg ham and rainbow chard; or buttermilk pancakes with passionfruit curd, kombucha poached pears and kaffir lime syrup. Not what you were expecting on your pancakes, right?
Sambal chilli scrambled eggs with green papaya and crushed cashews; a waffle stack with bacon, maple and fairy floss; garlic butter and thyme roasted mushies with grilled haloumi and kale and cashew pesto and a hash; zucchini fritters with creme fraiche and streaky bacon; and an ocean trout omelette with salsa verde and parmesan all make me want to return either with a big group so I can sample them all, or after starving myself for a few days so I can scoff.
Lunch is similarly difficult to deicide upon, but on this instance it will be the Thai fish cakes using local kingfish; lamb and pearl couscous salad and a wagyu burger with chips.
The mango smoothie I’ve ordered before food is enough to stop me in my tracks. It’s so very thick and creamy and full of ice-cream. Summer in a glass.
We start with the fish cakes which are fresh and zesty and colourful. The two cakes are thick and firm, and not fried long enough for them to become oily, just long enough to heat and hold together – it’s nice. The local kingfish is flavoursome and adding chopped snow peas into the cake makes them textural and light. Lots of zing is provided from the fried shallots and sesame seeds sprinkled on top, as well as the nuoc cham dressing full of chopped red chilli. They’re a cut above the ones you’ll get at your local Thai takeaway that’s for sure.
A salad of slow-roasted lamb and pearl couscous is brimming with mouth-feel surprises and Middle Eastern tastes. The roasted lamb is chunky and delicious. Among the balls of semolina, you’ll also find asparagus, grilled zucchini and capsicum, currants, almonds, pomegranate seeds and spinach. A dollop of cumin yoghurt adds lightness.
The Wagyu burger is an above-average rendition. With a juicy patty between the milk bun, plus gooey melted cheese, fresh tomato and oak leaf lettuce and tangy pickles and aioli, you’d be pretty happy with your choice. The rustic cut chips are a standout. Order a bowl on the side if you’re not getting a dish that includes them.
A cabinet full of baked sweet treats is on standby if you’re after coffee and cake, and why not? The venue is so relaxing and laidback; sitting next to us is a gentleman finishing off his morning coffee and newspaper while we tuck into our lunch at 1pm.
There is indoor, outdoor and deck dining, and the space is open and bright. Service is attentive and perky. Licensing means you can enjoy a glass of bubbles or a beer with your meal.
With fresh ingredients, a fresh approach and a fresh location, The Little Nel is a big tick for your eat-out list.
- What: The Little Nel. 3/7 Government Road, Nelson Bay.
- Contact: 4916 4600.
- Hours: Breakfast 7 days, lunch Tues-Sun.
- Head chef: Mat Key and Dan James.
- Accessibility: Yes.
- Take note: Reservations taken. Check out the specials.
- Bottom line: Dishes from $9-$28.
- Must try: The burger and a smoothie.